Three more Oak Ridge organizations have raised concerns about school vouchers, or the use of public funds for private schools. Some officials expect the issue of vouchers to be raised in the upcoming state legislative session.
The Oak Ridge Board of Education unanimously approved a voucher-related resolution in November. The school board doesn’t think vouchers should be adopted until the state’s Basic Education Program is adequately funded, and until all schools are on the same playing field. That means they would take the same tests and the same students, regardless of disabilities, Oak Ridge Board of Education Member Angi Agle said.
Although it was amended slightly, the resolution approved by the Oak Ridge school board in November “strongly opposes” taking funds from public education in any community in the state without agreement from a local school board, without a legal guarantee that the schools receiving the funds will comply with the same curriculum and testing standards required of public schools, and until the state’s Basic Education Program, or BEP, is adequately funded by the Tennessee General Assembly.
The resolution says the Tennessee General Assembly, the state’s legislature, will consider legislation in 2017 that would use public funds to pay tuition costs for students to attend private, religious, and non-religious schools.
During the November meeting, Agle said she doesn’t have a bias against private schools and is okay with competing on a level playing field.
Oak Ridge Board of Education Chair Keys Fillauer said it’s primarily a funding issue, involving tax money that should be designated for public schools.
“We better be ready to tighten our seat belts on this,” Fillauer said. Donald Trump’s current nominee for education secretary, Betsy DeVos, is a staunch supporter of school choice and vouchers, Fillauer said.
Oak Ridge school board members said they want to discuss the issue with other school boards in Anderson and Roane counties, and with municipal governments.
“This is going to impact public school funds,” Oak Ridge Board of Education Vice Chair Bob Eby said. “It will impact cities in the county.”
The Oak Ridge municipal government has also expressed concern about the potential use of vouchers. Here’s one question raised by Oak Ridge City Manager Mark Watson after a recent joint meeting with Tennessee legislators and City Council members: What if a student in a district that spends, on average, say, $6,000 per student wants to come to school in Oak Ridge, where the per-student spending average might be much higher, maybe as high as $12,000? Who would make up the difference?
Oak Ridge has briefly outlined its concerns in its state legislative agenda. A voucher program that does not cover the actual cost of per-pupil expenditures in Oak Ridge would be another unfunded mandate, according to the legislative agenda. The city has asked legislators to support public schools through a deliberative “local impact” analysis when considering any voucher programs.
Two other organizations, Oak Ridge Education Association and Oak Ridge Retired Teachers Association, have announced that they are supporting the BOE resolution. They want to keep public funds in public schools and not dilute the funding for private schools.
The BOE resolution will be the focus of a legislative forum at 4 p.m. Tuesday, January 3, in the Oak Ridge High School Amphitheater. Tennessee Senator Randy McNally and representatives John Ragan, Kent Calfee, and Dennis Powers will participate, an announcement said. The forum is sponsored by the Oak Ridge Education Association and the Oak Ridge Retired Teachers Association. It will be moderated by the League of Women Voters. The public is invited.
Organizers and those supporting them say voucher programs can have a negative impact on public schools by taking scarce resources and redirecting them to private, sometimes for-profit entities that are not held to the same accountability standards as public schools. They say Oak Ridge has always worked for, and prided itself on, the quality of its public school system.
The Tuesday afternoon forum is designed to be informative, the announcement said. Attendees will be invited to submit questions on index cards that they would like the legislators to address during the forum. League of Women Voters member Kathy Edwards will serve as the forum moderator.
Refreshments will be served outside the Amphitheater beginning at 4 p.m. The forum will begin at 4:30 p.m. and last one hour.
You can find a link to the BOE resolution that was approved in November with some modifications, including changing fully funded BEP to adequately funded BEP, here: oak-ridge-board-of-education-resolution-on-public-funds-for-private-schools-nov-2016.
More information will be added as it becomes available.
The original press release was submitted by Kay Moss. It has been edited here, and additional information has been added by Oak Ridge Today.
Do you appreciate this story or our work in general? If so, please consider a monthly subscription to Oak Ridge Today. See our Subscribe page here. Thank you for reading Oak Ridge Today.
Copyright 2016 Oak Ridge Today. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.